AN IRISH father has spoken of how he feared his daring plan to get his snatched son safely home was about to be dashed after he misread a form at an African border crossing.
Richard Quarry admitted, "my heart was in my mouth," as he had difficulties with paperwork at a Zambian border crossing as he tried to bring his son, Ethan (7), back to Ireland after he had been snatched by his mother.
Zambian national Elizabeth Daka took Ethan to Africa to live with her last April – ignoring numerous court orders in favour of Mr Quarry.
But the Cork father's carefully laid plans to get his son safely home almost fell apart when he misread a form lying upside down on the Zambian border crossing station as he was just metres from safety.
"I read 'prohibited' on the form as it was lying upside down. I started to panic and my heart was in my mouth. But I didn't realise that the form meant I was prohibited from returning to Zambia, not prohibited from leaving," he said.
"I could tell the Zambian officials were nervous and I just suspected the worst. I pretended I forgot my phone and put Ethan in the car where he could play games on a tablet I had brought. I was afraid the whole thing was going to fall apart," he added.
Richard had spent nine months desperately fighting to get his son home.
He had sole custody of Ethan at the time he was taken.
"It was just something that I didn't see coming. When you're a normal parent, you put your kids first and you would never do that to a kid – remove them from their surroundings like that.
"Ethan lived with my girlfriend and me and her two daughters. His mum had access to see him every week for a day and a half.
"At Christmas time, we had entered into an informal arrangement where she might have him for Christmas morning one year and he would be with me for the next one.
"This particular time was Easter and she had asked me could she take him for three days. She collected him on Easter Sunday and the arrangement was that I would collect him three days later. And before I was to collect him, I rang and the phone didn't work.
"That was on the Wednesday and on the Thursday my mother got a call from her to say that she was in Zambia with Ethan."
Zambia has not signed up to the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction so Mr Quarry was unable to pursue Ms Daka through the courts.
The Kinsale-based dad was forced to implement his own painstaking plan to bring Ethan back to Ireland.
He flew to Zimbabwe and drove 2,500km to Zambia to bring his son home.He employed a personal investigator to help him search for Ethan, and came up with an ingenious plan to see his son again.
Ms Daka was working in a bar in the Zambian capital of Lusaka. He rang his estranged wife to tell her that the Christmas presents he had sent Ethan would be at the Irish embassy for collection.
The personal investigator was then able to trace Ethan.
Mr Quarry then walked into his son's school and took Ethan from his class. He drove straight to the Zimbabwe border knowing that the hunt for him would initially focus on Lusaka Airport.
However, he was grilled by police and soldiers at the border for three-and-a-half hours because his son's Irish passport did not have an entry stamp on it.
"I told them as much of the truth as I could. That the stamps were put on the Zambian passport because the Irish passport was in the luggage. I couldn't believe it when they waved us through and I drove with Ethan into Zimbabwe."